Driving Brands... literally!

From its docile and low profile beginning as a small poster on the roadside to becoming huge hoardings to building and vehicles wraps... outdoor advertising has come a long way! The latest entrant in this space are the mobile billboard vans that can be seen camping in strategic locations in concurrence with the morning and evening traffic in the bustling city of Mumbai.

M'cons Advertising's frontlit mobile billboard featuring an ad for Skoda

The two major players in this area are Kino Sign Trucks and M'cons Advertising. While Kino uses Ashok Leyland trucks for their displays, M'cons uses Tata trucks. A mobile hoarding essentially consists of a double sided 20 feet by 10 feet display (frontlit and/or backlit) mounted on a truck. A unique feature of these trucks is that the display can be hydraulically lifted to a certain height as per the requirement of the area. These trucks cost Rs 800,000 (including fabrication) and the cost of advertising on them for a period of one month is Rs 300,000 to Rs 400,000 as opposed to permanent hoarding sites, which cost anywhere in the vicinity of Rs 500,000 to Rs 1.5 million for a month depending on the location of the site. The more posh the location, the costlier the hoarding site. The maintenance of these trucks in terms of fuel, drivers, mobiles for these drivers, cleaners, government display charges, tender charges, generator etc, roughly adds up to Rs 50,000 per truck per month.

A M'Cons truck with a Tata Indicom hoarding stationed at Bandra Lake in view of the morning traffic

While earlier there was just the essential requirement to obtain a relevant permission license from the RTO and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to run these trucks in the city, a new twist in the tale has recently dawned as the government saw a good source of revenue from these upcoming mobile billboards and hence introduced a tender system. Interested parties, in order to attain the license to run these trucks, had to fill in the tender and the best quote would be granted the rights. This new development saw M'cons Advertising bagging the tender rights for the Mumbai's western suburbs (Bandra to Borivali).

On the other hand, Kino Sign Trucks operate in South Bombay area from Colaba to Mahim and also in the eastern suburbs. The truck owners have to shell out Rs 15 million as grant to the government per year for 10 trucks. The standard service tax rates and education cess, that of 10.20 per cent, are applicable for these trucks.

Speaking about the tender system introduced by the government, Kino Sign Trucks director Kabbir Luthria says, "We did bid for the tender rights but we didn't bag them. However, I believe that the rate at which M'cons has filled the tender is not financially viable."

M'cons Advertising, headed by Manoj Pardasany, touts itself as being pioneers in introducing this concept in 2002 in India, gaining the germ of the idea from New York, where such trucks were plying. Luthria, on the other hand, says, "The hydraulic system that we have in our trucks is one of a kind in the whole world. There are mobile billboards in America, but none of them have the hydraulic system." Further speaking on the profit margins on these trucks, he says, "The cost of operation is very high for these trucks. We make about 15 - 20 per cent profit on the overall cost of operations, but it still turns out to be expensive."

Zee's new show 'Kareena Kareena' on mobile billboard

While Kino and M'cons own 10 trucks each, Kino will however be adding another 10 to its kitty in a month's time keeping in mind the clients' growing demand for them. Interestingly, both don't see each other as competition as the routes they ply on are different. Says M'cons Advertising assistant consultant (outdoor) Mohammed Reza, "We don't see Kino as a competitor as they do not tread in the western suburbs, where our trucks ply."

As far as advertising is concerned, clients like Reliance, all major banks, Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), HSBC and many other advertise with Kino. M'Cons clientele list consists of brands like Birla Sunlife Mutual Funds, BPL Mobile, Electrolux India Ltd, Godfrey Phillips India LTD, Globus, Lee, Wrangler, Sahara, MTV, HSBC, Zee TV, Lifestyle, Hutchisonmax Telecom, Philips India LTD, Tata Tea, Radio Mirchi, Globus, Hyatt, Fedex, Hindustan Levers Ltd., Ogilvy and ICICI.

Such hoardings revolutionise the way one approaches outdoors as they are cost-effective, convenient and highly visible. As this is a clutter-free medium (until now at least), it provides clients with excellent branding that is essential for product launches. The payment structure for these mobile billboard trucks is generally 30 days from the display date and M'cons provides clients with concessional rates in case of advance payments.

Some in-your-face advantages that these mobile billboards have, Reza points out, is that they have clear visibility and help advertisers to go on a branding blitz at a fractional cost. "These hoardings are ideal for targeting specific demographic profiles of the city and they have higher return on investment (ROI) as the double displays works for us in case of both morning and evening sites. One more advantage is that even during transit, these have high visibility," says Reza.

M'Cons has 40 strategic display points and its trucks cover at least two of these daily. The first shift of display is 8:30 am to 3:30 pm and the second is 4:30 pm to 11 pm with illumination at evenings, informs Reza. Talking about the number of vehicles a particular client books at one time, Reza says it depends on their campaigns. When agencies make the bookings, it stretches from anywhere between three days to two months. Direct clients generally book for 15 days for specific launches.

MTV Roadies mobile billboard facing the morning traffic at Bandra

Also interesting is the fact that permanent hoarding site owners are also looking at this as an extension of the services they offer to their clients. Zenith Outdoor managing director Yash Gala entered into a partnership with Kino Sign Trucks a couple of months back. As per the deal, Zenith would market a few of Kino's trucks. Says Gala, "The risk of operating these trucks is very high but at the same time we get the returns. More and more clients are seeing this medium as an upscale one and the biggest of brands advertise on them." The trucks that Zenith Outdoor markets for Kino are booked till January 2005. Gala and Luthria are looking forward to getting those 10 additional trucks in order to meet the increasing demand.

These nomadic billboards apart from being exciting and innovative are very target specific and attract the highest possible impressions. Bright Advertising - a big player in outdoor hoardings, sees these vans as a good way of advertising but at the same time the company feels that as opposed to the permanent hoarding sites that are 40 feet by 20 feet in size and sometimes even 60 feet by 40 feet, the mobile billboards' size is limited to 20 feet by 10 feet. While size does matter, one cannot however dismiss the fact that a clutter free environment and the mobility factor does work in favour of these billboards. It is to be kept in mind here that Bright Advertising too filled up the BMC tender to obtain the rights for these mobile billboard trucks.

While, Mumbai remains the only city wherein a large number of these vans operate, there are other cities like Bangalore and Ludhiana to name a few, where this concept is taking shape. Says Reza, "We are aware of similar vehicles being operated in other cities as well and we are looking at possible entry routes in these cities via different modes." Talking from a futuristic perspective, Reza adds that now that they have ensured strong presence on home turf after extending the MCGM display rights in Mumbai, M'cons will be looking at expanding operations in other major and Class I cities. "There have been a number of inquiries for displays and promotional events and we are working out the modalities. Rural marketing is getting bigger day be day and we want to capitalise on that trend too. It is tough to comment on timeline but personally I will put it at six months," he says.

Brands speak

Let's now have a look at what advertisers have to say about this innovative medium of advertising.

A brand like Reliance has tried and tested this medium but apparently it doesn't see it as a financially viable solution for their brand. Says Reliance Infocomm marketing head Kaushik Roy, "We did try the vans for outdoor advertising for a while, but we didn't continue with it. That is because it makes sense for a brand like ours to advertise on permanent hoarding sites and be in one place so as to make a connect with consumers time after time. However, when we need a topping for our campaigns, we may think of using it." Roy further says that these vans are cost effective but in the long term they may not be so because to engage customers, conventional media is more effective in the long term.

Max' Mandira Bedi campaign advertised on the mobile truck

Many television channels like Sony, Max, MTV, Star, Zee and Hungama have taken to advertising on mobile billboards. Max used them for advertising their Extraaa Innings campaign featuring Mandira Bedi and also their Cricket Fever campaign. Max marketing and commercial vice president Tushar Shah says, "Outdoor is an impact and reminder media. When you add mobility to it, its value goes up. So mobility works as an advantage in this case. Also the placements of these vans as per the morning and evening traffic, garners more eyeballs."

Max' strategically placed mobile hoarding catches office goers in the morning

What works in favour of these hoardings? When a company has a particular location in mind where they would want to place their hoarding, it is not necessary that the particular site will always be available to them. In such a scenario, these trucks come in handy as they can be plonked where ever desired, as long as it doesn't violate any traffic rules. Shah says, "Most hoarding sites are booked on a long term basis and for a channel like ours, which has advertising campaigns in spurts, it is sometimes difficult to get the space we require for our hoardings. In such a case, the mobile trucks are an advantage."

Hungama TV's mobile hoarding on an extended autorickshaw in Bangalore

UTV's newly launched kids' channel Hungama TV too used this medium for advertising; not in Mumbai but in Bangalore and Ludhiana. These hoarding trucks are, however, not like the ones which are seen in Mumbai. Some of them are autorickshaws with an elongated extension which carries the hoarding and are smaller in size. Hungama TV chief operating officer Purnendu Bose says, "The advantage of these is that they are mobile and have self-lit displayers. One of the disadvantages of fixed hoardings is that after a while it is dead and people no longer look at it." The reason why Hungama TV advertised in Bangalore on these mobile vans is because they didn't get hoarding sites of their choice. Bose feels that these are expensive but when one looks at the advantages in terms of mobility and the novelty, it gets balanced.

Although soft drink major Rasna does not advertise on these mobile hoarding trucks, the company's general manager marketing Rajesh Mehta says that Rasna is open to advertising on them if and when the need arises. Says he, "This medium of advertising is good, especially in the cluttered city of Mumbai. From a client's point of view, it is viable as at a one time production cost, they can cover many areas of Mumbai." Mehta, however, feels that the cost of advertising on them is on the higher side and needs to be rationalised.

SET India marketing manager Albert Almeida too feels that this new medium of advertising is particularly good for an island city like Mumbai as it can move from North to South and East to West in artier routes. "This van can station itself at different locations at different time spans and the eye level of the hoardings can also be adjusted to the kind of place the truck is stationed at," he says. Sony has advertised on these trucks for their mega show - Indian Idol, which went on air last week and also for their other shows Ye Meri Life Hai, Ayushmaan and Hum 2 Hain Na.

The general consensus seems to be in favour of this alternate medium of advertising. However, cost is a factor. But that may drop if new entrants come into the market. But with the tender system introduced by the government, it may not be that easy now for new players to drive smoothly into this arena.

All said and done, one thing's for sure... these hoardings will continue to drive brands.

Click here for a slide show on mobile billboards used to advertise in the US.

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